On July 20, the World Bank released a third, and likely final, draft of proposed new “safeguard” policies. While the new safeguards were originally intended to streamline the Bank’s policies that protect the environment and vulnerable populations affected by World Bank projects, these new draft policies fall short of helping protect human rights, particularly for one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups - LGBTQ people.
Previous drafts of the safeguards have specifically mentioned protection and consideration of LGBTQ people, but the Bank’s third draft removed any reference to sexual orientation or gender identity. Instead, the Bank released a draft “Directive” alongside the safeguards, which does mention sexual orientation and gender identity in defining “disadvantaged or vulnerable” groups. However, it is unclear at this point if the Directive will carry as much authority as the safeguards themselves.
The Bank’s draft also places the burden on borrowing countries, rather than on the Bank, to ensure compliance with the safeguards. Thus, a borrowing country like Uganda, with a long history of LGBTQ human rights abuses, would be responsible for ensuring that LGBTQ people are not harmed by a Bank project.
“This cannot become a case of the fox guarding the henhouse,” said the Director of HRC Global, Ty Cobb, referring to the borrowing countries who will be tasked with protecting LGBTQ people. “It is deeply disappointing that the Bank chose to side with anti-LGBTQ voices who wanted to roll back potential human rights protections, rather than standing up for human rights and the dignity of all people. It is crucial that the Bank gives its accompanying ‘Directive’ the same level of authority and attention as the safeguards, in order to ensure Bank projects do not play a role in harming LGBTQ people.”
Despite the disappointing news on the safeguards, the Bank has taken some positive steps in recent months to place attention on the needs of LGBTQ people in developing countries. In April, it announced the creation of a staff position at the Bank, with exclusive focus on LGBTQ people, a position for which HRC has long advocated. Bank staff have shared with HRC that they have conducted a search for candidates and have conducted interviews with an eye toward hiring someone in the coming months.
In addition to calling for LGBTQ-focused staff and stronger safeguards at the Bank, HRC has also advocated for the Bank to use its resources and expertise to conduct research on the economic well-being of LGBTQ people in developing countries, and on the economic impact of anti-LGBT stigma in those countries. More data would help the Bank and a variety of other institutions to shape policies that would protect and promote the human rights, as well as the economic well-being, of LGBTQ people around the world.